Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. - Psalm 119:105

Bible Study Notes

Matthew 20: 1-19

By Dr. Richard J. Krejcir
The Parable of the Vineyard

The Parable of the Vineyard

General Idea: Chapter 19 ends with the statement, "many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first." This statement primes this chapter. Many pastors, over the years, have used this passage to teach about salvation and how we are rewarded. However, this has nothing to do with salvation because we do not work for it; salvation is a gift!  This passage is not about rewards, either, because we do not all receive the same reward (Rev. 22:12-13). This passage is about eliminating selfishness and the "me first" mentality, both of which are integral parts of our sinful nature! Our selfishness deprives us of God's power, and of opportunities and true rewards! Jesus continues His retort to Peter, as well as to the rich young ruler, with a parable on how we are to trust and not insist on our rights and desires. The first group of workers demanded a contract, and by the landowner's grace, was granted it; and he stuck to it, just as they requested. The other group of workers just wanted to work and to serve. This passage is about not allowing ourselves to be limited by our lack of foresight and vision. We are to trust in Christ, our motivation being to serve-not to demand what we think our reward or place is to be! Contracts may be necessary in business, but not in the Kingdom of God. His rule is about trust and grace; the world's is about earning and manipulating. Under which would you rather live?


1.   The Kingdom is like. This parable does not mean the Kingdom of God is a business or farm; "like" refers to an analogy. The subject is being compared to something else so to explain the primary subject in terms that others could relate to and identify with.

a.   Like a landowner. Many ancient people saw God as a boss or king. In an agrarian culture, the landowner reigned supreme and controlled the lives, liberties, and economy of the people. Many rabbis in Jesus time told parables about landowners; God is the ultimate landowner.

b.   Had agreed with the laborers. The workers demanded the amount, by contract, of what they would receive. If you demand that God meet your demands, He just might do that! But, all you will do is limit yourself in what He would do for you. Our vision is shortsighted; His is omniscient! We see the bark of a single tree; He sees the entire forest!

c.   Just as today, farmers and business people would often hire temporary workers. Many such workers were between jobs. Or, perhaps their profession was to travel and do "migrant" work; most were older or younger. Many of these people had their own small farms or were tenant farmers on small farms, and hired themselves out to owners of larger farms for extra income. They hung out at the market place waiting for work. (I was at Home Depot recently-a lumber and hardware store-and saw the same thing occurring!)

d.   A denarius was a full day's wage.

e.   The Third hour. Hours were usually counted after sunrise. This would be 9 a.m. A work day was 6 a.m. (just before sunrise) until it became too hot to work. The sixth hour would be noon, and the ninth hour  was 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. the end of the work day, depending on when it became too hot.


2.   Doing nothing does not necessary refer to laziness; rather, the workers who were hired later probably had their own farms and sought after more work after they had finished their labor. This was common in harvest times. Some people would just hang out, and were idle, only desiring to work short hours.

a.   These workers would normally expect a half of a denarius or less. The law demanded that laborers be paid on the day of work (Duet. 24:14-15).

b.   Supposed they receive more. Complaining about wages after agreeing on an amount was culturally offensive and rude. This is why some liberal commentators say this could not have happened; but, they miss the point of the story.

c.   This is a picture on how generous and gracious our Lord is. We need to trust Him and accept His provisions, even when we do not see them.

d.   Christ is calling us to faithfulness that looks to Him and not to what we think we want. Our wants rob us of what is best and what is really prosperous!

e.   Evil eye means stingy (Prov. 28:22); it also means being jealous and envious (1 Sam. 18:9). Jealously is a heinous sin before God (Gen. 4:5-8; 16:5; Luke 15:25-32)!  Christians have no reason to ever be jealous, because we are in Christ. We have no basis to be jealous of one another, because His sovereignty protects and gives with compassion and ethical purity. Our ability to judge is based on personal desires and coveting (Ex. 20:17).

f.     Those who grumble against God, saying He is not fair, do not understand grace or else cannot see past their experiences and hurts.

g.   Both idleness and overworking are meaningless, and have no gains when we are not focused on Christ as Lord.


3.   The last will be first. What we think we deserve may not correspond to what we get, as we will be given much more with faith and much less with a contemptuous attitude.

a.   What we think is of worth and importance usually is not. We seek wealth and power; He seeks reconcilement and relationship.

b.   This parable also portrays God as sovereign, gracious, and concerned with humanity. It shows the contrast between the people society throws away as being first, and what the world considers first as really being last because their true colors come out as they complain and blame.

c.   Grace is very hard for some people to understand because it is without merit. Nobody likes to work hard and see someone who does not do so get a reward. But, grace is not about rewarding those who are lazy or foolish, it is about God's control, and His vision sees all; ours does not.

d.   Real Grace does not criticize or tear others down!  

e.   We are not to keep our focus on what others are doing or the rewards they seem to get. Rather, we are to focus upon our Lord and what He is seeking to do within us so we can give it to those around us. Let Him deal with you fairly, that is, what He thinks is fair-not what we think!

f.     Grace is impossible to understand or receive; that is why we need the work of the Holy Spirit.

g.   The son of man must be betrayed. Jesus predicts His Passion for the third time thus far (Matt. 16:21; 17:22-23). This is a reflection that He is the ultimate last in faith and humbleness (Matthew 19:30). Submitting to God to be last, as He modeled, exalts us in ways we cannot fathom, as God is the One who brings us to be first. God is the One who vindicates us!

h.   Salvation has more to do with our worship of Christ and less about our rewards!


          Is God fair? This question comes up in our frustrations and setbacks, but the answer is always, yes. He sees and knows all, and we have so little faith and knowledge. We need to seek His Grace as our motivation, not what we see in others or what we think being rewarded is all about. Be a person who prays prayers that really and truly seek the Lord! Prayers in the New Testament are never about selfishness, never point to self; they are always teaching us to point to God and how we can advocate His glory. Do your prayers point to Him? Do not give into your own ways; give in to His! This starts with the right prayers of how I can serve, how I can be used, what I have to learn, not just what I can do or what I need! God wants to give to you! All too often, we are so busy with what we think we need that we do not listen or take advantage of His treasures and opportunities. Allow Him to deal with you generously!  Allow your prayers to be generous towards others. Whatever fears or graces you experience, understand that you are built and designed for relationships. You need to understand your role to others around you and their role to you! Life may seem to shortchange you at times, but our Lord never shortchanges you unless you want Him to!





1.   How do you feel when you see co-workers who are lazy and do not do their work, yet they get a raise or are promoted over people who do work hard? Has this happened to you? Did you get mad at God?


2.   Did you think this passage was about salvation and heavenly rewards? Why? How do you feel now?


3.   How would you define the "me first" mentality? How is it a part of our sinful nature? Why is it embraced so much, even by people in the Church?


4.   How does our selfishness deprive us of God's power? Have you been deprived by your misdirected deeds and ideas?


5.   Which would you rather live under, an oppressive régime, or freedom and liberty? Why? In what category is God's régime?


6.   How would you describe the Kingdom of God?


7.   Why do you suppose the workers demanded the amount by contract? Does this mindset work in business? What about in the church?


8.   If you demand that God meet your demands, He just might do that. How would you feel to receive what you want when you could have had so much more? How do trust and faith come into play?


9.   What do you think of the expectations of the different workers? How does this relate to how some Christians tend to expect God just to bless them?


10. Do you realize how generous and gracious our Lord is? Have you experienced it? If not, why? What happens if a Christian sincerely knows and serves the Lord, yet only receives hardships, while others around him or her seemed to be blessed?


11. How do our wants rob us of what is best and what is really prosperous? Have you seen this in yourself or others? How so?


12. How would grumbling against God or saying He is not fair be a sign that someone does not understand Grace or cannot see past his or her hurts and experiences?


13. What we think we deserve may not correspond to what we get. What does that mean? Have you experienced this?


14. Why do you think Grace is very hard for some people to understand? How do you understand it?


15. How would your spiritual life and attitude toward life and others improve if you really took to heart this lesson-that our salvation has more to do with our worship of Christ and less about our rewards?


16. How does Jesus' willingness to be obedient and to submit affect how you perceive leadership and influence?


17. What do you say when someone says that God is unfair? Have you ever felt that way?


18. We are to trust in Christ; our motivation is to serve, not to demand what we think our reward or place is to be. Why is this so hard for some people? Is it hard for you?


19. How do we trust Him and accept His provisions even when we may not see them?


20. What can you do to make sure that your prayers really and truly seek the Lord and are not just me based?



© 2004 R. J. Krejcir Into Thy Word Ministries

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